Weekend Star Party: Sun, NGC 2112 & Running Man Nebula
Friday, January 24 - Today is the birthday of American solar astronomer Harold Babcock. Born in 1882, Babcock proposed in 1961 that the sunspot cycle was a result of the Sun's differential rotation and magnetic field. Would you like to have a look at the Sun? Although solar observing is best done with a proper solar filter, it is perfectly safe to use the "projection method".
First off, NEVER look at the Sun directly with the eye or with any unfiltered optical device, such as binoculars or a telescope! We're not joking when we say this will blind you. Exposed film, mylar, and smoked glass are also UNSAFE. But don't be afraid, because we're here to tell you how you, too, can enjoy the Sun. A safe way to observe sunspots is to "project" an image of the Sun through a telescope or binoculars onto a screen. This can be a simple as cardboard, a paper plate, a wall or whatever you have handy. If you're using a telescope, be sure that finderscope is securely covered. If you'd like to try binoculars, just keep the cover on one of the two tubes. By using the shadow method, you will see a bright circle of light on your makeshift screen. This is the solar disc. Adjust the focus by moving the distance of the screen from your scope or binoculars until it is about the size of a small plate. If the image is blurry, use your manual focus until the edges of the disc become sharp. Even though it might take a little practice, you'll soon become proficient at this method and you'll be able to see a surprising amount of detail in and around sunspot areas. Happy and SAFE viewing to you all!
Today in 1986, the United States Voyager 2 was the first spacecraft to fly by Uranus, providing us on Earth some of the most outstanding photographs and information on the planet to date. After more than 10,000 days of successful operation, Voyager 2 still continues on towards the stars carrying a phonograph record of "The Sounds of Earth."
Saturday, January 25 - Today is the birthday of Joseph Louis Lagrange. Born in 1736, this French mathematician made important contributions to the field of celestial mechanics.
Tonight let's do some study of open clusters that belong to different catalogs. The first three are known as "Dolidzes" and your marker star is Gamma Orionis. The first is an easy hop of about one degree northeast of Gamma - Dolidze 21. Here we have what is considered a "poor" open cluster. Not because it isn't nice - but because it isn't populous. It is home to around 20 or so low wattage stars of mixed magnitude with no real asterism to make it special.
The second is about one degree northwest of Gamma - Dolidze 17. The primary members of this bright group could easily be snatched with even small binoculars and would probably be prettier in that fashion. Five very prominent stars cluster together with some fainter members that are, again, poorly constructed. But it includes a couple of nice visual pairs. Low power is a bonus on this one to make it recognizable. The last is about two degrees north of Gamma - Dolidze 19. Two well-spaced roughly 8th magnitude stars stand right out with a looping chain of far fainter stars between them and a couple of relatively bright members dotted around the edges. With the very faint stars added in, there are probably three dozen stars all told and this one is by far the largest concentration of this "Do" trio.
Now let's have a look at a deceptive open cluster located in Barnard's Loop around 2 degrees northeast of M78. While billed at a magnitude of roughly 8, NGC 2112 (Right Ascension: 5:53.9 - Declination: +00:24) might be a binocular object, but it's a challenging one. This open cluster consists of around 50 or so stars of mixed magnitudes and only the brightest can be seen in small aperture. Add a little more size in equipment and you'll find a moderately concentrated, small cloud of stars that is fairly distinguishable against a stellar background. Also known as Collinder 76, this unusual cluster resides in the galactic disc - an area of mostly very old, metal poor stars. It is believed that NGC 2112 is of a more intermediate age, based on recent photometric and spectroscopic data.
Sunday, January 26 - Today in 1962, the U.S. space program launched a lunar probe named Ranger 3. Its mission was to image the Moon right up until impact, land a seismometer, study gamma rays and report on surface reflectivity of radar... But, it didn't happen. Two days after launch, the ill-fated Ranger 3 was on a runaway course towards the lunar surface when it received a reverse command and lost contact with Earth. As a result, it overshot its mark by 36,800 kilometers and still remains in heliocentric orbit. Tonight let's continue with our study of the Orion complex of nebulae associated with a molecular cloud. Known as LDN 1630 in Lynds' Catalogue of Dark Nebulae, it has many fine regions for study with a smaller scope under dark skies. Tonight return to M78 and let's look about one half degree northeast for the much fainter NGC 2071 (Right Ascension: 5:47.2 - Declination: +00:18).
At its core is the smallest protoplanetary disc yet detected. Rotating around a young star, this "disc" could have the potential to form a solar system, and in size it is very similar to the orbit of Neptune. Located 1300 light-years away, it contains compact clusters of water molecules that allow researchers to study its motion through their radio emissions. Known as masers, these regions amplify radio emissions, and the entire area has been subject to jet activity. Although we cannot see the disc itself, you can detect a faint nebula associated with a 9th magnitude star in an average telescope. As with many types of objects, sometimes high magnification is not the answer. Try staying with minimal power to spot NGC 2071. Now lace up your Nikes and let's head out to find "The Running Man"...
Located just a half a degree north of M43, this tripartite nebula consists of three separate areas of emission and reflection nebulae that seem to be visually connected. NGCs 1977, 1975 and 1973 (Right Ascension: 5:35.5 - Declination: -04:52) would probably be pretty spectacular if they were a bit more distant from their grand neighbor! This whispery soft, conjoining nebula's fueling source is multiple star 42 Orionis. To the eye, a lovely triangle of bright nebulae with several enshrouded stars makes a wonderfully large region for exploration. Can you see the "Running Man" within?
Until next week? May the stars shine in your eyes!
CAUTION: Never look at the Sun, either directly or through a telescope or binocular, without a professionally made protective solar filter installed that completely covers the front of the instrument, or permanent eye damage could result. When using a truss tube telescope to view the Sun, both a properly fitting solar filter and light shroud are required.
Tammy is a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She?s received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status.